Some of my favourite tips, including the arts of concision and omission, getting to the point and keeping the flow, plus proofreading, letting it settle and reading out loud.
1 Be true to yourself, but don’t forget about them
Write about what ‘you’ know, always remembering ‘their’ interests (that of your readership: your community, your audience, your prospects). Wherever possible, put yourself (or your brand) into the story and tell it from your perspective. Make it unique to you, your business, and try to find your voice and flaunt your style. Just like your brand voice should be unique to you, so should your content.
2 Give it swing, make it sing (and don’t be afraid to feel something)
If the words don’t have that flow, don’t let them go. You know when a piece is well-written. You’re excited by it, you want to read it again; you share it. It’s not just the well-made points, the fluency, logical structure and airtight grammar (that has to be in there too, oh yes). It’s the way the copy glides, flows and swings with the tempo of the piece. That’s what connects, resonates and evokes a feeling. And feelings are stronger than facts. When you write something, it has to make you feel something (yes, even marketing content can do that). If it doesn’t have that effect on you, it’ll do nothing for your readers. So write that. Aim for a piece that makes you want to dance around the office when it’s done (not hide under your desk).
3 Get to the point, fast
With some content, you have two chances to win a reader’s attention: the headline and the first sentence. Seriously, if I’m not captivated within the first 15-25 words, I click off. Use the same yardstick when you make each point in your writing. Here are some more tactics to help you.
4 Stay focused
Stick to the programme, stay on target, don’t stray from the path. Stay focused on the subject you’re writing about and your angle, never forgetting the reason you’re writing it, and who it’s for. If another angle/topic crops up as you’re writing, cut and paste that sentence into a mother file to develop later. As you’re writing, check that every line matches up with the headline and intro. If it doesn’t you’ll lose your reader somewhere along the way, and you don’t want that. (Quick point about headlines/intros: your piece may mutate as you write it, which means you may need to rewrite your headers).
5 Gen up on simple grammar (on the fly)
You don’t need to go to night school to gen up on the most common grammar errors. Google the phrase/word when you come across it, like this: Its not It’s or this: Your/you’re. Search for: ‘Most common grammar errors and spelling mistakes UK’ or something similar. You’ll find a heap of blogs (just make sure the blog is about UK English). Here are three resources to get you started:
And here’s a quick-reference online tool from Oxford Dictionaries all about grammar, spelling, punctuation and usage.
6 Practice the art of concision — be brief
Concision — giving a lot of information in a few words — is easier said than done. Actually, it’s easier written than said, as you can edit every word and monitor the word count on the screen. I always exceed my word count when I’m flowing. But this is the beauty of editing: you can swap, delete or combine sentences/words/paragraphs (and use punctuation) to keep it tight.
7 Once you’re flowing, keep it going — hold in your wee
So you’re writing away, it’s flowing (the words, that is, not your wee) and it’s making sense. You’re excited by it. Here’s my tip: don’t stop. Keep going, work through lunch, ignore email and social media pings…hold in your wee. You can’t fence in creative flow. And, yes, writing is a creative process, even business content. Who says marketing content has to be dull?
8 Read your copy OUT LOUD
It if sounds right, it will read right. Your words are likely to be read out loud at some point, so, no matter how stupid this makes you feel, do it. Don’t be proud, read it OUT LOUD.
9 Practice the art of omission — knowing what to leave out
Knowing what to leave out is the hardest part. The simple question: does it add anything to the piece? Would it really harm the piece if it was left out. Try cutting it out (paste it somewhere else though), leaving it for a while, then rereading it. Did you really miss that sentence or paragraph? Really? If it just has to be in there, is there a way to shorten it, or combine it with another sentence to keep it short?
10 Let it settle overnight
Do you find you’re reading the same paragraph over and over, then rewriting it…over and over? When that happens: STOP. You need perceptive, and that only comes with time; overnight is ideal. My rule is: at least one sleep between writing and editing. If time isn’t on your side and you only have a few hours to write and submit copy, take a walk, eat lunch, have a nap. When you next look at the piece you’ll be surprised at how much nasty stuff jumps out at you.
11 Get someone to proofread it (or two people if you can)
Words are cheap, mistakes are expensive. Sloppy errors make you look amateurish, and this devalues your brand. If one letter, comma or apostrophe is out of place it can change the whole meaning of the sentence. Okay, maybe all your prospects and clients aren’t Grammar Nazis, but it’s the small things that count. It doesn’t take someone else long to read through your words. You’ll be surprised what they pick up. Also, a selection of people will read your words once the thing’s published, so, wouldn’t you prefer someone from your team picking up the smelling pistake, rather than a potential client?
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